An analysis of Leonid Bershidhsky’s article in which he rails against the spread of Russian misinformation or “Media Hacking”, which in deep self-referential irony is from its headline to the body, a precise demonstration of the type of misinformation he rails against.
March 12, 2015
In an article, scarily titled “Russia is Hacking Your Newsfeed” (and hence guaranteed to get clicks, including mine), Bershidshky essentially makes the claim that there is a lot of misinformation out there (agreed) and writes
He then goes on write
The rest of the piece is about the perils about believing in misinformation, how misinformation is easily spread and so on and bashing of the Kremlin dark arts.
Leaving aside his editorializing of the Government owned Rossiya Segodnya (translates to Russia Today and distinct from RT) as “the Russian state-owned propaganda network” (which seeing as it is his blog on the U.S. Mega-Billionaire owned media network, he is free to editorialize as he pleases), he accuses it of “utter nonsense” and how it was “debunked”.
My curiosity piqued, I actually looked at the stories he mentions.
Who Did The Actual Polling?
ICM has carried out polls for various British media outlets across a variety of sectors. There is no indication that it, being a member of the British Polling Council, skewed its polling methodology or results to meet “Russian state propaganda” requirements.
What Does Newsweek Say?
The Newsweek article by Madeline Grant from 26 August, 2014 that Bershidsky links to, talks factually about the poll results and adds
What Does Vox Say?
The Vox article by Max Fisher from 26 August, 2014 that Bershidsky links to is a longer piece going more in depth and contrasting the results to a Gaza poll and adds:
(Max then has a link called “Russia Today” which goes to an August 18, 2014 report from RT, which as stated is a separate entity from Rossiya Segodnya – though Western media stubbornly sticks to the line the two are the same and they are both Putin-propaganda channels. At any rate, moving along!)
What Does the Washington Post “Debunk” Story Say?
In the August 27, 2014 article by Adam Taylor that Bershidsky cites for “debunking” the “propaganda” is actually more interesting since he tries to make sense of the poll results given the percentage of Muslims in France. He assumes that it would only be a percentage of Muslims that would answer in the affirmative, not considering a view expressed in the RT article Vox links to
Finally, puzzled (but nowhere accusing Rossiya Segdonya of “propaganda”), Taylor talks to the Post’s resident pollster who speculates about what could have happened
In other words, the resident pollster couldn’t find anything seriously wrong with the methodology and speculated that people got confused over terminology and Iraq.
Except that as RT also had in is report, the same ICM poll ALSO asked about Iraq.
Taylor, unable to reconcile his view with what appears to be a reasonably sound poll carried out by a British polling agency simply throws up his hands and writes
In other words, let’s not talk about the poll that doesn’t make sense to me, and that will alienate people (even though I couldn’t find anything fundamentally wrong about the poll).
What does Betaworks Say?
This article is the Ur story of Bershidsky’s oeuvre on “Russians are Hacking Your News Feed” and is the most intelligent of the articles he sources.
John Borthwick cleverly – and deliberately – conflates two concepts: “hacking” in the sense of illegally accessing privately held data and “Media Hacking” a term that is described as:
I would agree with the sentiment that social media is being manipulated as I wrote about how the Dominant Narrative is set with any other being pooh-poohed either as “propaganda”, “conspiracy theories” (or apparently now “Media Hacking”).
In another cleverly conflated headline “The ISIS/Russian Hack”, Borthwick looks at the source data (pages 3-4) for the poll. He essentially challenges the sample size of the people who answered in the affirmative (which Taylor’s pollster did not point out) and speculates again about people getting confused about terminology (though the same source data indicated different questions were asked about Iraq).
In other words, he is skeptical about the methodology of the poll conducted by ICM. Instead of taking up their alleged incompetence with them, he quickly moves to his primary target: Russia.
After all this poll was conducted by Rossiya Segodyna. To his credit, he does NOT characterize it like Bershidsky does (that’s why the latter gets the big bucks!) but sticks to the analysis. While confusing RT with Rossiya Segodyna, he identifies the RT article as Patient 0 in the spread of this news with Max Fisher apparently being an important dupe in amplifying the message.
He then states that the next day, the Post ran the “doesn’t make sense” article refereed to above but it was “too late”.
It is at this point, Borthwick shucks off his analytical approach and talks about “truth rarely catches up” and cements his Atlanticist credentials by quoting that arch-imperialist and vicious racist Churchill about truth and lies.
What the actual “lie” was is not revealed (presumably it is the deliberate misinterpration of poll data by the Russians in order to discredit who exactly and for what purpose?)
Bershidsky (channeling Borthwick) uses the case of a poll conducted by a professional British polling agency adhering to British standards; commissioned by a Russian news agency that he finds odious; the analysis of which was initially published in another Russian outlet he also finds odious; which was spread by Western reporters (one of whom claimed it was “no surprise”, and the other who was aware of the source before publishing); to which bewilderment was later expressed by another reporter (whose own polling expert could not find anything materially wrong with the methodology); as a “debunked” (implied) lie (though for whom and what purpose is unclear) and an example of Media Hacking under an article with the catchy title (that Borthwick would otherwise decry) called “Russia is Hacking Your News Feed”.
If he was making the general point to be aware of the source of all data and agendas of all parties spreading “news”, I would wholeheartedly agree. (For example how many people know that at least till 1977, the CIA admitted to having assignments to over 400 reporters over 25 years from owners to executive management to reporters and stringers across the entire US media spectrum including the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Reuters without any repercussions?)
But his point of course is to avoid Russian news as it is propaganda. You can drink the cool, free stream of koolaid coming out of Western media without a care in the world!
(Ed: corrected the Conclusion section on Taylor – not Fisher – checking the methodology)